Cerulean sky and jagged glacial grays fill the windshield of our rattling Land Rover. Tilting skyward, we grunt up a rugged 37-percent grade to stare at the glaciated flanks of Monte Vioz, a towering peak in the Ortler Alps of Northern Italy. A flimsy-looking guardrail delineates the single-wide road from a precipitous death as our driver expertly rounds tight switchbacks, bike-laden trailer bouncing along behind.
Our alpine caravan reaches its destination at a refugio, leaving about a half mile of trail between us and where the glacier turns to tributary--also the starting point for our descent. As surprised as I am to have made it here without somersaulting down a cliffside in a tangled fireball of vintage Land Rover, I’m perhaps even more surprised to be throwing my leg over a 29er bearing the name "Giant."
When it comes to 29er trail bikes, Giant got on the boat, but then jumped off, swam back to shore and proceeded to stand on the dock clutching a "boats don't float" sign long after the ship disappeared over the horizon.
The new bike still bears the Trance name and silhouette, but it's a wholly contemporary rig. Giant endowed it with just 115 millimeters of rear travel, which is paired with a 130-millimeter-travel fork. Don't write it off as a hopped-up cross-country bike, though, because you can do as much with the Trance's 115 millimeters as you can with most 130-millimeter bikes. We'll get to that and how the bike rides in due time. First, a little more technical talk.
The mountain bike industry's latest technological changes are all part of Giant's recipe for the Trance 29. It’s Boost-spaced at both ends, and compatible only with one-by drivetrains--both help make room for 29-inch tires up to 2.6-inches wide within the Maestro rear end, without requiring ukulele-length chainstays. A 44-millimeter fork offset makes the Trance's 66.5-degree head angle even more stable, while simultaneously keeping its wheelbase under control.
Pricing for the Trance starts at $3,050 for the aluminum-framed Trance 2 and goes all the way up to $8,300 for the Trance Advanced Pro 29 0 that I spent a couple days on. The Advanced-series frames have carbon front and rear triangles, something Giant hasn’t offered on a trail bike since the 26-inch Trance X Advanced of nearly a decade go. Both the aluminum and carbon frames boast an alloy lower link and a carbon forged rocker link, which attaches to trunnion-mount shocks.
The current iteration of the 27.5-wheeled Trance will remain in Giant’s lineup, but is not being updated alongside this new 29er version. SRAM Eagle drivetrains and Guide brakes are featured across the range, along with Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR tire combos. Both aluminum and carbon versions take a press fit 92 bottom bracket, and will be available in the United States late this month or early in September.
Notably, all Trance 29 models aside from the entry-level Trance 2 boast carbon-rimmed wheels from Giant’s new TRX wheelset series. The TRX rim is comfortably wide at 30 millimeters internally and is ready for a beating with 3.5-millimeter-wide hookless beads. The TRX 0 wheelset that comes on the top-end model spins on a Giant hub body with DT 240 star-ratchet internals and is laced with Sapim Super spokes. The rest of the lineup gets the TRX 1, which is identical to the 0 aside from its DT 350 hub internals and comparatively heavier and weaker Sapim Laser spokes.
The new wheels will be available aftermarket in both 27.5- and 29-inch diameters beginning late this fall, along with a couple lighter-duty wheel options. Retail for the TRX 0 wheelset will be around $1,900, while the TRX 1 will ring in at about $1100.
Riding the Trance Advanced Pro 29 0
With just under 30-percent sag in the Topaz 2 and about the same in the fork, the Trance left little doubt that it meant business on the climbs. The composed climbing platform allowed me to get away with more than I had any right to while toting sea-level lungs at 7,000 feet. A 74.5-degree seat tube angle might not be progressive-sounding these days, but it's steep enough for the Giant's conservative travel and reasonable reach.
The Trance's short-travel credentials mean little additional effort is needed to propel and maneuver it through rock gardens. Of course, the same can be said for most similarly endowed 29ers. Since we didn't spend a whole lot of time climbing, I'll save the more nuanced discussion of its uphill performance until I or another editor has performed a thorough test on more varied terrain.
We spent plenty of time descending on the new Giant, though, where it proved more capable than its meager-sounding 115 millimeters of rear travel might suggest. I can't speak for the models sporting Fox suspension, but I probably wouldn't have doubted it if our hosts from Giant said that the DVO-equipped Trance was sporting 130 or 140 millimeters of travel.
What Giant and DVO describe as an exhaustive testing process involving over 100 shock tunes paid off on the top-end Trance. The Topaz 2 helps to deliver the holy trinity of rear-suspension performance: a supple beginning stroke for small-bump sensitivity; a supportive mid-stroke for pumping, cornering and jumping; and enough end-stroke ramp to allay harsh bottom-outs. Each frame size receives uniquely tuned forks and shocks with tweaked air volumes, shim stacks, oil weights and even OTT spring sizes in the forks to ensure consistent ride characteristics for riders of varying weights.
At one point, I was faced with a series of tight European (read: barely rideable) switchbacks. The final hairpin could be skipped by dropping off the side, about four feet to flat. I fully expected the Trance to give up its 115 millimeters and probably make some horrid noise upon landing--but hey, it's a test bike--so I dropped it. Surprisingly, the Trance shrugged off the impact without a hard bottom out. The frame seems to be plenty stiff, though there was a notable lack of high-force corners on the natural trails we rode.
I managed to give the TRX rims a test when I jumped into a rock garden and pinch flatted the rear tire against the rim bead. The rim withstood the impact. The wheels are plenty stiff, but not so stiff that they deflect unpredictably or translate too much chatter.
I tend to compare bikes like the Trance 29 to Ibis’ Ripley LS, which I’ve spent a great deal of time on. The Trance is a more solid-feeling chassis both in terms of geometry and stiffness, and has more bottom-out control--a good thing given how fast you can go on it. Pedaling performance would seem to be about even between the two, and the Ripley is one of the most proficient climbers I’ve ever swung a leg over. I’d say the Giant feels similar--if not slightly more capable on descents--than Trek’s Fuel EX. I’d like to offer up comparisons to Norco’s Sight 29 and Transition’s Smuggler, but I’ve only ridden low- and mid-level builds of those bikes--not exactly fair matches to the $8,300 Trance 29 I rode.
The Trance's geometry is a good match for its suspension: Neither push the other beyond its means, as is sometimes the case with such seemingly incongruous numbers. More than anything, that's a compliment to how capable this Trance's suspension is: I can't think of any bike that does as much with 115 millimeters as this one does. The question is whether or not the rest of the lineup--which sports Fox suspension--boasts the same ride characteristics as this top-notch DVO-equipped model.
This much, at least, is for certain: As a fan of 29er trail bikes, I'm glad to have Giant back on board.